My heart thumps in my chest. I massage my middle finger, feeling the lump of the bonespur implant. I inhale slowly but I don't flow myself calm. This isn't a moment for meditative detachment. This is a moment for coiled readiness.
The door bulges and a gawky young man trots into the room. His yellow-black hair is woven through with smartwire, which sways when he walks, giving the impression of a breeze.
"Welcome to Shiyogrid!" he says. "I'll be your recruiter today."
"Nice to meet you, san."
"My pleasure." Two sitting bubbles take shape from the wall, and the recruiter lounges on one and gestures invitingly to the other. "Would you please confirm your name?"
"Maseo Kaytu," I say, standing at ease instead of taking a seat.
The lens in his right eye gleams with data. "You were assigned the surname identifier 'K2SE' in a refugee camp after the fall of Vila Vela?"
"Yes, san," I say.
"And when you reached your majority, you took 'Kaytu' instead of your original name, your family name?"
"Yes, san," I say.
"May I ask why?"
"I wanted to leave the war behind, to start fresh. To start again."
"Mm. I suppose Vila Vela is not anything you'd want to hold on to."
He's right, but that doesn't mean Vila Vela isn't still holding on to me. I bow my head and say, "No, san."
"You spent a few years in a refugee camp," he says. "Yes, san."
"Since that time, you've been making deliveries in the Coastal Vegas Freehold, doing odd jobs for which you are painfully overqualified."
He flashes me an apologetic smile. "I'm starting to worry about your linguistic prowess."
"I'm fluent in mainland English," I tell him. "I speak Creole and Bahasa, muddle through with Yoruba and Franco-Vietnamese."
"Refugee children." He touches his flowing hair. "You often come with a flair for languages."
"I've recruited a handful of refugees for various positions over the years." His lens gleams again. "Never into the military."
I expected this but still feel a prickle of frost on my neck. "No, san."
"The military does not recruit from a warzone, Mar Kaytu. Surely
you know this."
"Then what are we doing here?" He cuts off my answer with a gesture. "Your equivalency scores are high despite your...You live in one of the lower levels?"
Freehold towers average about two hundred stories, with hundreds of suites and studios on every floor. A quarter million people live in the more densely packed towers, which rise in thick clusters around avenues of bridges and walkways and tram tracks. The top dozen floors are called the penthouse, the middle is the belt, and the bottom floors are the gutter, a roiling mass of music and culture, art and anarchy.
"Yes, san," I say. "I'm from the gutter. Making deliveries gives me time to train for the military. To prepare for this interview."
"You were raised in a warzone, and you wish to return?"
"I want to serve."
"Because I—" I take a breath and tell a half-truth. "I want to be part of something bigger than myself."